Scotland’s larder has, for some time, provided the global market with world class food and drink products, whether that be premium Atlantic Scottish salmon and whisky, or new innovations like craft beers or artisanal cheeses.

As well as building a sterling reputation for its quality, our food and drinks sector is also a vital contributor to the Scottish economy, worth around £14bn each year and accounting for one in five manufacturing jobs in Scotland.

That said, food and drink businesses have faced an extraordinarily difficult year and many have had to put their growth ambitions on hold to deal with the everyday challenges to allow them to continue trading through tumultuous economic circumstances caused by Covid-19 and Brexit.

It is more important now than ever before to support the sector and help businesses continue on a trajectory of growth for long term sustainability of the industry and wider economy.

Smaller businesses and producers who are in the earlier stages of their growth journey have been hit especially hard due to such a heavy reliance on local restaurants and markets.

"We don’t know exactly how long businesses will be facing the challenges of Covid-19 restrictions, but we do know food and drink businesses remain ambitious and countless companies have taken unique and highly entrepreneurial measures over the last year to continue trading.

No matter whether you’re a two-person start-up or a renowned, established brand, food and drink businesses can remain focused on developing their identity and vision for growth despite a challenging economic landscape.

To do this, it is important that businesses have access to the right practical tools and knowledge for growth and success in 2021 and beyond.

This a massive reason why a unique supplier development programme has always been high on the agenda for the Scotland Food and Drink partnership.

Since launching our 'Home advantage' strategy in 2018 and 'Ambition 2030', it has been a key action and with the development of the recovery plan and the amazing financial support from the Scottish Government, it has now come to fruition at a crucial time for businesses looking for practical routes to market mitigating the damage done by Covid-19 and Brexit.

The training programmes within the academy include 'Seeding growth', 'Accelerating growth' and 'Commercial excellence'.

These kick off with 'seeding growth' in May, 2021, and this is aimed at companies whose primary focus is on maximising their local markets and beginning to move to broader Scottish and UK markets.

'Accelerating growth' is aimed at established businesses targeting advancement in the UK market and will start in the summer.

The final course, 'Commercial excellence', is an advanced programme in building excellence in sales and negotiation for established highly ambitious businesses and sales leaders.

For many small businesses, dedicating time and resource to development at the moment may seem challenging. However, it has never been more important to develop and in-build resilience through growth to make sure that your business is prepared for the future, whatever that may hold.

Through programme, like The Academy, businesses in our industry can learn in a real commercially orientate and market focused environment which will prepare them for the next stage of their growth journey.

Times remain incredibly tough for one of our most prized and valuable sectors, but by working together collaboratively and delivering practical tools to effectively recover from the trials and tribulations of the last 12 months, we can emerge stronger.